Le Nouveau Anti-Semitism
What's behind the disturbing recent violence against Jews in France.
"Liberté, Égalité, Judeophobie" and "Allah Mode" by Christopher Caldwell, in The Weekly Standard (May 6, 2002, and July 15, 2002), 1150 17th St., N.W., Ste. 505, Washington, D.C. 20036–4617.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s xenophobic National Front, set off worldwide alarms when he gained a place in a runoff election last May with conservative president Jacques Chirac. One reason: Le Pen’s rise has coincided with an unprecedented upsurge of anti-Semitism in France. What is "surprising and confusing," writes Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, is that Le Pen "has practically nothing to do" with the new anti-Semitism. His vote totals were swelled by popular outrage at rising crime rates—higher, by one measure, than in the United States. Today’s anti-Semitism is a product of radical Muslims in France and, more ominously, the French Left. "In fact," writes Caldwell, "its most dangerous practitioners are to be found among the very crowds thronging the streets to protest" Le Pen.
Between September 2000 (shortly after Palestinians launched the "second intifada" against Israel) and the start of this year, there were, by one count, more than 400 violent anti-Jewish incidents in France, including firebombings of synagogues and stonings of worshipers. Few of those responsible were followers of Le Pen. The country’s six to eight million Muslims, mostly of North African descent, include a significant underclass, as well as an unknown number of radicalized young people. The French themselves speak of la benladenisation des banlieues, a reference to the outer suburbs where many poor Muslims live.
Yet the French political class has resolutely averted its gaze—Chirac going so far as to say there are "no anti-Semites in France"—and treated anti-Jewish violence as the work of juvenile delinquents.
One reason for this reluctance to face facts, according to Caldwell, is that it would mean facing the truth that the French themselves (especially the French Left) are "in danger of embracing" what French academic Pierre-André Tafuïeff calls "the new Judeophobia." Its twin pillars are Holocaust-denial and radical anti-Zionism—not just opposition to Jewish statehood, says Caldwell, but "‘mythic anti-Zionism,’ which treats Zionism as absolute evil, against which only absolute warfare can be raised."
This Manichaean view has broad appeal in France, with its long romance with Third World revolution, and especially among antiglobalization activists. Indifferent to Muslim struggles in Chechnya and elsewhere, they are obsessive about the Middle East. Why? Because the Palestinians confront in "evil" Israel what the antiglobalists see as "the ‘capitalist’ world of the West," Caldwell writes. José Bové, who became a national hero and leader of the antiglobalist cause after vandalizing a McDonald’s in France, has gone so far as to charge that the Israelis sponsored the attacks on French synagogues "in order to distract attention from what they are doing" in the West Bank. Yet Bové is also a leading critic of Le Pen.
There lies the ultimate irony and danger, according to Caldwell: "The most dangerous thing about Jean-Marie Le Pen, who loathes the global economy, distrusts the Jews, and practices gesture politics, is . . . that he’ll serve as the hate object who unites anti-Western Islamists and anti-Western antiglobalists, who march against him night after night over ideological differences that grow harder and harder to discern."